The Teacher

Posted by Joey Nicholson on 16 February 2015

Joey Nicholson - in an extract from his book Waves Of Worship - explores a key role of the Holy Spirit.

The things I have learned about worship, especially over the last ten years or so, I have learned from the Holy Spirit. I’d like to share some specific examples of how the Teacher, the Holy Spirit, has taught me about worship. He teaches us through the Word, but also through people. In John 14:26, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will teach you all things. He is constantly teaching me through creation. Now, I love nature and beholding the beauty of creation. When I watch the trees gently blowing with the breeze, I’m reminded of what Jesus said about the Spirit. The wind blows, and you see the trees move, but you don’t see the wind. You only see the effects of the wind. It is the same with the Holy Spirit. You can’t see Him, but if you’re watching, you can see the effects of the Holy Spirit. This is such a great lesson.

Many years ago I lived in a beautiful area of North Georgia, in a valley, with mountains surrounding everywhere you looked. There were two small rivers that meandered in front and behind my house, and these two rivers came together at one side of my house. The river in the front was a nice moving, fairly deep river with a lot of beautiful rocks and a lot of fish, like trout. It was indeed a trout stream. The river in the back was much smaller, quieter, and much more shallow. It also had long smooth shoals lying beneath the water in various places. The place where these two rivers came together formed a nice, deep pool of water. Trees lined up all along the water’s edge, and many were like the river birch. What a wonderful and peaceful place it was.

This is where the Lord first began to teach me about the flow of worship, even though I didn’t know at the time exactly what He wanted me to learn. I just remember that many times He would have me go out and stand at a certain place along the water’s edge, and be still. He would have me listen. Sometimes I would hear the sounds of the water crashing over a rock, and other times, I would watch a leaf floating so effortlessly down the stream, being carried away by an invisible energy, without making the slightest sound. I had seen at times the beams of sunlight shining through the water, revealing every detail of a sunken branch like it was under a microscope. I had also seen the glow of moonlight on the water waving gently back and forth on the surface. Oh, the beauty of creation! I love standing at different turns of a mountain stream and listening to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit as He gently speaks about the river of God (Psalm 65:9-10), and how the water comes from the mountain and never ends, but flows freely through the hills and to the valleys. The water flows peacefully, turning, winding and sometimes getting louder, forceful, powerful, but somehow keeping the underlying current of tranquility.

The sounds of water echo the sounds of music as we worship. The Spirit accomplishes this effect in music in what we call dynamics. The dynamics might indicate the mood of the music piece as a whole, or it might indicate where the volume of sound needs to increase or decrease, and can even change the mood within the song. In music, there is a loudness followed by a softness, and a building to a crescendo, then diminishing. Sometimes these places in music are sustained for longer periods of time than others.

When relating to worship, we see that there is an order to music, even as there is an order to worship in Scripture.

We enter His gates with thanksgiving and enter His courts with praise (Psalm 100). We must be joyful about coming into His presence with singing. There should be some volume in our sound when we come before Him. The closer we get to Him, and the more we go down before Him and humble ourselves, I believe the quieter we must become. When we worship and adore Him, and we are in His presence, I believe our volume should decrease, so His can increase. Psalm 46 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” It is in this stillness that we now hear Him.

Jesus has taught me so much about this dynamic of the Spirit in worship by learning from these rivers. I have also learned that, at times, the water comes against some type of resistance. As you can see through the smooth stones in the water, over a period of time, the water has an effect on everything it touches. I believe when we stay in God’s Word and in His presence, that over time, His Spirit will smooth away our rough edges. Sometimes when it rains, the river will come up to its banks, and then a powerful force is seen in the water. It’s overwhelming if you’ve ever watched a river that’s risen like this, a river that’s crested or even overflowed its banks. The water moves with such speed and moves objects in it so quickly and with such force. I remember the first time I saw these rivers rise this fast. I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned, and watched in amazement at branches that may have been in one place for weeks were now immediately moved to a new place in the river.

Everywhere the river flows, it brings life. This is why we must stay in the Word because we need the washing of the water of the Word. Jesus said in John 6:63, “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” We cannot let our life get stagnant. We must stay in the Word and in the flow of the river of His Spirit. Even in our worship music, our songs must keep moving and flowing and stay refreshing. There’s nothing at all wrong with the songs of yesteryear, but He said to sing a new song! There is a new chord, a new melody, a new arrangement. Jesus said in John 8:58, “I AM.” He is right now, so let the river flow!

In John 7:38, Jesus said, “he that believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” You must believe. Just like in a natural river, there can be worldly or carnal hindrances that block the flow of the spiritual river in us, thus causing us to be stagnant.

Thank God that even if we’re feeling stagnant in life, that immersion in His river can immediately move us to a new place in Him. That’s why I say there’s always hope. What He can do in a moment’s time is amazing! The Bible says that when Jesus starting talking about this river of life, He stood and cried, or raised His voice with emotion. I believe the reason Jesus cried out loud is that He knew just how awesome and refreshing and powerfully life-changing the river of the Lord is in us. Joy unspeakable and full of glory! That’s the life-giving power of God!

So let’s get back to the dynamics of music as they parallel to the flowings of the river. The beautiful thing about music in and of itself is that it has the potential to move you. I remember going to hear the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra in Gainesville, GA. The different sections, or pieces of music, are called movements. For those who don’t know, there is a first movement, a second movement, a third, and so forth. The reason it is called a movement is because it moves you. It really does. I was so moved and amazed at the power of the music alone. This is the purpose of the orchestra, to move us emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. Did I say physically? Yes, I did because it was that good.

The flowing of music like a river is so important, and when we worship, it’s important to have the underlying current of the Holy Spirit leading where we are to go. For years, I have had a plan when it comes to worship: make a plan and be highly flexible. We have to have an idea or a plan of where the Lord wants to take us, but we must be sensitive to follow His lead. This is why we write our plans on paper, not in concrete. We want to let God lead.
Just like the sound of the river, our music in worship should flow and turn and wait and build again. There should be sounds as that of a rushing waterfall, and sounds that are of a quiet whisper. We wait on the Spirit to direct us, knowing that everywhere the river goes, it leads us into life. Sometimes it’s difficult to wait on the Lord in times of worship because we have to put our trust in Him that He is leading us. I’ve experienced times like this in worship, quiet and almost still times; some people get nervous because they are accustomed to something going on all the time. Sometimes He wants us to bring all the music down, and be still and know He is God.

Sometimes I begin a service with deliberately slow and intimate music only. I remember doing this at a church in Chicago a few years ago. I was worshipping on the keyboard before the service, and the pastor and some others entered, and we all sensed the presence of the Lord in the room. It was a wonderful time in His presence; I went from piano to guitar, then back again, while the pastor prayed for almost everyone in the room, and many were changed by the Lord that day. I know because they told me afterward. Hallelujah! All this began with quiet music, and worshiping the Lord.

The reason I share this story is that sometimes the Lord will have us do something that may be “different” to us because it is out of the norm. If we usually begin a service with two fast songs and then a slow one and many people are blessed by it, we think that’s what we should always do. Or if the choir sings a song, then a soloist sings before the pastor preaches, that becomes our pattern. However, our Teacher, the Holy Spirit, wants us to know we can mix it up, do something different, and as long as we’re following Him, His river will lead us into life.

I’d like to share another thought on the river that the Teacher has revealed to me. Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t get too close to the river, you might fall in.”? This is why I love to play music and worship the Lord in many different venues and not announce that we’re worshiping, but just do it. I’ve played many music festivals, outdoor community festivals, and even secular “Battle of the Bands.” I always just do what I do, worship Jesus, and some people have come up afterwards and asked for prayer; others have asked where I go to church and they start coming, while some have even given their life to the Lord. The point is that while we are playing music anointed by the Holy Spirit, many times the heart has been pulled into the river by the Spirit before the head can reason what is happening. It is a joy to witness the Spirit at work in this way because when we get close to the River, we slip in to His arms of love.

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